In October 2020, the Nesta team in Scotland and Y Lab in Wales commissioned researchers, led by Dr Patricia Lucas, to undertake discovery research to better understand the concept of data poverty in the UK and how it is currently defined.
What is data poverty?, the discovery report from this research, is published today and is based on stakeholder engagement in Scotland and Wales, a review of existing literature and scoping of international work in this space.
We believe the findings from this work are important, insightful and timely. They show that the concept of both individual and household data affordability is significantly under-researched across the UK. Often it is lost in wider digital inclusion initiatives focused primarily on digital connectivity, infrastructure or literacy. We believe that this in itself is a significant finding. It means that:
This gap in knowledge and understanding matters. The pandemic has shown that access to the internet is essential for individuals and communities. Many vital services such as education, social security, health and work are now online. Those who cannot access enough data for their needs are increasingly excluded from services, work, community participation and social engagement.
This report also proposes a working definition for the concept of data poverty in both Scotland and Wales that could be applicable across the UK. By data poverty we mean:
‘those individuals, households or communities who cannot afford sufficient, private and secure mobile or broadband data to meet their essential needs.’
We recognise that attempting to define a concept that is so intrinsically linked to other factors of inequality, economic poverty and exclusion is difficult and can be divisive. But, without a working definition to build from, we believe that it is harder to identify the innovations and policy solutions needed to address this challenge and make a tangible difference.
With this in mind, the report concludes that to build a stronger, more accurate and more detailed understanding of data poverty in Scotland and Wales, research is needed to:
In addition, our report includes a summary of the different types of innovations, solutions and responses that have arisen to help tackle data poverty globally. These are summarised in Section 5 and are grouped into three broad types of approaches:
In the coming months, as we begin to emerge from our public health crisis, policy-makers in Scotland and Wales will turn their attention to setting out their agendas for renewal and recovery in advance of the upcoming national elections. We hope that the findings, case studies and the working definition of data poverty set out in this report can help inform a better and broader conversation about how to tackle this urgent form of societal exclusion in our communities.
We are very grateful to Dr Patricia Lucas, Rosa Robinson and Lizzy Treacy for their excellent work in producing this report in the difficult circumstances we are all in.
At Nesta, we will be building on these findings and taking a deeper dive into this issue to understand in more detail the individuals and households affected by data poverty across Scotland and Wales. Please do get in touch if you would like to be kept in the loop with this work.